Using ‘Top 7 Lists’ To Help Assimilate Published Game Worlds

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0127

Using ‘Top 7 Lists’ To Help Assimilate Published Game Worlds

Outside In

I had a campaign area already established, so my goal was to learn about the major aspects of the game world and figure out how that would affect the daily life of the PCs and NPCs. With this knowledge, I can roleplay and plan encounters better and with greater consistency.

I chose to work from the outside in. That is, I looked at the huge issues first, such as the gods and their agendas, and then slowly drilled things down to the level of my campaign area.

Many GMs work this way, and many do the opposite–they work from the campaign area outwards. Either approach is fine! Pick the one that you feel most comfortable with.

Why Top 7 Lists?

I believe the 80/20 rule applies with absorbing world books and supplements. 80% of what you need to start a campaign or adventure that is to be consistent with published game world information can be derived from knowing just 20% of that information.

In other words, you don’t need to learn and remember every detail that’s in your world books to start. And that’s the goal: to start. Not to get bogged down by reading and research.

As the campaign progresses, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do more research, make up your own things and declare any inconsistencies that pop up as “local or regional variations ;)”, read between games, and so on. You’ll learn it all eventually.

The easiest way to figure out that 80% is to make some lists about the basic elements of your world. The lists should be long enough to give you a good overview, but they also need to be short enough so that they don’t take forever to create.

So, I found “Top 7” lists to be the perfect size. Top 5’s were too short for me, and Top 10’s took too long.

Making lists isn’t always easy either. Sometimes you have to do a little bit of reading or skimming. But that’s what made the process so effective for me. It wasn’t enough to simply read through the world information; I had to understand the basics well enough to be able to prioritize things into a Top 7 format.

Finally, once I was done I had some awesome reference materials and cheat sheets. Nothing beats organized listings of information for in-game, on-the-fly reference.

Top 7 Religions

My campaign world is fantasy, therefore I made a Top 7 Gods list. If your world is different, then you can focus on religions.

I just wanted to quickly learn who the major divine powers were. As stated in a previous Tips issue, a single god could have multiple organizations of followers or religions associated with it, but I just needed to know who the most important deities were for now.

It was a tough job picking the Top 7 Gods as there are many, many deities in the Forgotten Realms. After skimming through the profiles, I just picked the ones who seemed the most significant or who appealed to me most. I also made sure to pick at least two evil gods for setting up campaign conflicts.

I also wanted to learn a little, but not a lot, about each deity, so I created the following profile for each one:

  • Common Name(s):
  • Portfolio: (i.e. Weather, Death, Magic)
  • Alignment:
  • Page#:
  • Goals:
  • Recent Actions:

I found this profile quick to fill out, and I felt it would help me plan and/or game master any of the deities’ churches or priests who the PCs migh come across.

Top 7 Kingdoms And Countries

The gods list gave me a wide-scale overview of the major religious motivations governing the world. Next, I wanted to learn more about the biggest political entities that would affect my campaign area.

These are usually kingdoms, countries, large cities, and so on, that neighbour my campaign area. But, I also glanced at the other world entries in the book just in case remote nations had significant influence as well for whatever reason (such as war, magical might, technology, cultural epicentres, etc.).

Here’s the profile I created for each place:

  • Name:
  • Population/Races:
  • Major Traits: (i.e. what makes the nation different?)
  • Government:
  • Beliefs/Religions:
  • Recent Actions/Conflicts:

Top 7 Power Groups

Not all political and social influences are determined through the gods or countries. So, I wanted to list the most important cults, societies, military orders, cultures, sub- cultures, secret organizations, and other significant power groups who could be plotting in the game world.

For each group, I wrote:

  • Name(s):
  • Membership:
  • Purpose/Goals:
  • Affiliations:
  • Recent Actions:

This was a tough one also, because of the large number of possibilities within the Realms. So, I either chose groups who had the largest potential campaign impact, or who sounded like they could spawn the coolest adventures.

Top 7 Powerful People

Next, I wanted to know who the most important people were in the world.

  • Kings, Queens, rulers
  • Great mages
  • High priests
  • Famous adventurers
  • Powerful nobles
  • Wealthy merchants
  • Major villains

I had a large list to choose from, so I based my decisions on potential campaign effect, influence over/in the PCs’ region, and biggest potential presence in the game.

By “potential presence” I mean having the greatest likelihood of tangling the PCs in their plots, or of getting tangled in the PCs’ plots.

Here’s the profile I quickly made for each person:

  • Real name:
  • Aliases:
  • Core game stats: (i.e. class and level)
  • Alignment/Morality/Ethics:
  • Key powers:
  • Personality:
  • Goals:
  • Current plots:
  • Allies:
  • Enemies:

Also, whenever possible and when it seemed fitting, I picked NPCs who were affiliated with entries in my previous Top 7 lists: Religions, Kingdoms, and Power Groups. By doing this, I was hoping to close the loop in my research a bit and make my campaign start be a little more manageable.

Top 7 Movers And Shakers

This category is nearly identical to the Top 7 Powerful People list but is local in scope only. That is, within my PCs’ region, a small city, who are the people who get things done for the most powerful people in the campaign?

  • Agents
  • Fences
  • Informants
  • Local politicians, nobles, community leaders
  • Leaders of underground organizations
  • Merchants and wealthy people
  • Consultants, advisors, sages

I couldn’t find any information about these people in my game literature, so I just made them up. I felt it was important to know who they were as they would be the primary non-PC plotters, story seeds, and adventure hooks.

Top 7 Conflicts

After beginning at the top — the gods, and working my way down, I finally felt comfortable researching or coming up with the biggest conflicts affecting the local people in my campaign, be they wars, villainous schemes, power plays, greedy plots, actions of revenge, etc.

You don’t have to stick to the letter of the game materials by any means. But, the Forgotten Realms book and supplements provide many great conflicts and adventures, and I wanted to keep things fairly consistent at this point to help make my job easier–I have a whole campaign ahead of me to diverge from official materials, and I’m in information absorption and campaign launch mode right now–I’ve gotta take things one step at a time.

For each conflict, I outlined the following:

  • Title:
  • Participants:
  • Description/Overview:
  • Key individuals involved:
  • Key location(s):
  • Core time line: (i.e. just the key past, present, futureevents)

Top 7 Recent Events

Now we’re starting to pull things together. Scanning the entries from my world book, and looking at what I wrote in the recent conflict entries in the various Top 7 lists I made, I had many recent events to choose from.

This was a nice bonus, because I often find recent events a little tricky to come up with on the-fly. Plus, all the events, including the book ones, had a solid rationale behind them, and that’s a great GM feeling.

I plan on using the events Top 7 list for a variety of purposes:

  • Roleplaying (i.e. small talk)
  • Generating rumours and gossip (i.e. clues)
  • Plot hooks
  • Story seeds
  • Background flavour
  • Campaign realism

While I had many to choose from, I just focused on 7 to keep things manageable. From an NPC’s perspective, most people only chat about the weather and 2-3 current news items important to them anyway, so I didn’t need a mile-long list.

For each event, I recorded the following:

  • Title:
  • Who:
  • What:
  • Where:
  • When:
  • Why:
  • How:
  • Who cares about it:

Top 7 Standard Opponents

If every encounter involves a completely different monster, foe, or opponent, the world soon feels like a zoo. So, I wanted to establish some common opponents for my PCs so that they could develop some:

  • Rivalries
  • Knowledge
  • Tactics
  • Campaign information

This list was pretty quick to make. I skimmed the book looking for new monsters, races, and character classes (to initially surprise the characters and give them some mysterious opponents to learn about). Then I turned to my Top 7 Conflicts, Power Groups, and Movers & Shakers lists to fill out the remaining spots.

I’m actually contemplating making three separate lists:

  • Urban
  • Rural
  • Dungeon/Esoteric

But for now, I mixed all the categories together, with most of the foes being in the city the PCs are currently exploring.

Top 7 Praises And Curses

It drives me nuts when I have an NPC curse and swear but I can’t think of what to say. It destroys the effect I’m trying to achieve, and makes the scene turn into undesired comic relief for my players.

So, as I had the preparation time, I scoured the book for common sayings, and then invented some curses and praises to fill out the list.

I listed 4 curses and 3 praises, in order of severity, and I based them primarily on the world’s religions and villains. For example, the god of death always makes for a good curse: “May Osiris take your bones!”

Top 7 Interesting Places

Next, I listed the most interesting places in the local campaign area for:

  • Adventures
  • Encounters
  • Conversation
  • Background events

I drew upon my pool of conflicts and my source materials to create this list. For each place, I described:

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Importance:
  • Interesting feature(s):
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I’m still not finished my lists either. As I read the Forgotten Realms book I pick up new bits of information that makes me re-prioritize a list, or add a new entry. That’s fine. The most important thing is that I have a solid basis for roleplaying in this published world now–all future refinements and additions are a bonus.

Your GMing style might benefit from additional or alternate Top 7 lists. Do whatever you need to, but remember that the goal is to just get up and running without spending too many hours on initial research.

Another objective, for me personally at least, is to keep my facts straight about the published world I’ve decided to use in the first few game sessions. I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot and make a critical error that renders a lot of the published information moot or significantly different.

Finally, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use this process to create a campaign region from scratch. The lists help focus your thoughts, planning, and energy, and you are creating great reference materials as you go!

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

The 10 E’s Of Successful Role Playing!

From Quinton ‘RazoRbacK’ Delpeche


Don’t just draw your weapon and charge, take some time to evaluate the situation. Your DM should not get upset if you just ask a few simple questions before the encounter starts, but get into the habit of asking this as soon as you enter the encounter area.


Look around at what other items are available to help you overcome the encounter. The DM will always ensure that there are multiple means of getting through an encounter, and hacking and slashing your way out is not always the best.

The DM will not gift-wrap information for you, so if you don’t ask the questions don’t cry when the 50 orcs hiding in the wings put your character’s head on a spike in the camp center.


Check what your fellow party members are doing and envisage how you could help the overall goal of the encounter. It is normally counter-productive to do something that would adversely effect what another member is attempting to do.


Exercise restraint when it comes to using force. Chances are that the encounter is non hostile–until you charge in, that is. Try to ascertain what the other’s motive is. A bunch of snarling Hobgoblins normally means aggression but this does not mean that you have to fight them.


Always use the encounter to interact with the relevant parties and base your future decisions on these results. There is nothing worse then attacking a group of armed men, never realizing that the uniforms they wear are the same as the gate guards you passed earlier on.


Remember that your character is a living being and would not throw their life away just because of the situation. Be efficient with your life. Saying that my character would sacrifice himself or herself just isn’t adequate, no matter what, any living creature would think twice before throwing themselves in front of a dragon.


Don’t just sit there, do something. Procrastination is a sure fire way of getting yourself, somebody else, or even the entire party killed. Just because your character may be a lowly 1st level wizard or thief doesn’t mean you can’t add value to the encounter.


Have empathy for your fellow PCs and don’t do something to them just because it might be funny. Humor, although warranted, can sometimes lead to complete chaos during a gaming session. Ask yourself if you would want this to happen to you before doing it. If the answer is NO then don’t do it.


Not all encounters are about experience points. Most are normally ways of gathering information, building your character, or learning something new. Use the encounters for what the DM intended. Chances are excellent that the DM has filled the local dungeon with many a monster for you to hack and slash so don’t slaughter an entire marketplace just forthe XP.


Because that is what it’s all about really…


In short, you are role playing to have fun and to pretend you are in another world. Treat the character as if it was actually you. You wouldn’t charge head first into a group of howling wolves, so why would your character do it? Remember that your character is mortal. He is NOT a super-hero and he is there to earn a living and make a name for himself.

History is not filled with people who rushed foolhardily into situations; it is filled with tacticians and people who took time to understand their environment and then acted upon it. Even Zorro knew when the situation was impossible and then escaped it in some spectacular fashion. Just because you have to run away does not mean you can’t make it heroic looking.

It is far more rewarding watching your character grow over the course of many gaming sessions then it is having to restart a new character every couple of sessions. Nurture your character and try to outsmart the DM.

Remember, DMs don’t kill characters, players do!

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Prophecy Tip

From Arkanabar

I will read almost anything and see how it applies to gaming. I came across something interesting recently, but it was too late for your religious tips newsletter.

I doubt that I’m the only GM who has trouble coming up with prophetic or apocalyptic metaphor. The trick is to start with the event or person and then come up with sufficiently vague and/or confusing metaphors to describe it.

Additionally, do not have prophecies about PCs, unless the player has written them. Let the prophecies be general warnings about the evils that will be inflicted upon the world if nothing is done to stop them.

I have found a group that excels at looking at biblical prophecy and finding correlations to the modern world. This is the Philadelphia Church of God, and they distribute free a newsletter (The Trumpet) and a surprising number of books. You can take what they do, which is to look at every verse in the Bible and try to apply it to the people and events they see, and turn it around — look at the verses they say apply to people and situations, and use similar metaphors for the NPCs and plots that will have prophecies assigned to them.

Hope this is of use.

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Another Online Name Generator

From Andrew C.

The BEST place to get Fantasy names for a character is definitely [Random Name Generator ].It has one of the most extensive name generators I have ever seen. I just thought I would share this with everyone, as it has helped me out more than once.

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Gods Tip: The Manifest To Schismatic Ratio

From Karl

Just a note about gods in a game.

There is a relationship between schism and how tangible a deity is going to be.

If you’ve got an abstract kind of deity whose miracles are obscure and whose presence is largely inferred from how bloody nice a flower looks then the potential for schism within the religious institutions of this deity is fairly high.

Priest 1: God on high has revealed him/herself to me and says we should eat turnips.

Priest 2: God on high has revealed him/herself to me and says we should not eat turnips.

Who is right and who is wrong? It all comes down to which priest has a more direct route to an army, doesn’t it? This style of deity (abstract and remote) therefore suits a game where temporal power ultimately comes down to access to mundane resources.

However, if you’ve got a deity whose miracles are obvious (The angel of the lord turns up and heals the pope, counsels the king, entertains the crowd, and causes milk and honey to flow from the temple) then the potential for schism is low.

Priest 1: God on high has revealed him/herself to me and says we should eat turnips.

Priest 2: God on high has revealed him/herself to me and says we should not eat turnips.

Angel of the lord: Both of you, pull your heads in. God said eat only the turnips you can carry.

I call this the Manifest: Schismatic ratio.